Featured Headlines

Revenue Dilemma: Will Nigeria legalise Cannabis?

…Medicinal cannabis market worth $3.7bn annually

…It’s illegal to possess cannabis for now – NDLEA

…Religious leaders wary of drug abuse and side effects

It is no longer news that the current slump in crude oil prices, Nigeria’s huge exchange earner, is currently rattling the economic team of the Federal Government.

This is attributed to the Coronavirus pandemic which has slowed businesses and virtually every sector of the economy both locally and internationally.

In a swift response, the Federal Government has already reviewed the 2020 appropriation act in line with current realities.

Oil price which was benchmarked at $57 per barrel has now been slashed to $25 per barrel. Similarly, Crude production which was targeted at 2.18 million barrels per day has been cut to 1.7 million barrels per day.

However, amidst the outcry over dwindling oil revenue, a huge market in medicinal Cannabis is lying untapped.

Currently, the global total cannabis market (regulated and illicit) is estimated to be $344 billion according to the global Cannabis market report.

The top five regional markets are Asia ($132.9 billion), closely followed by North America ($85.6 billion), while Europe has a value of ($68.5 billion), Africa had ($37.3 billion) and lastly, Latin America ($9.8 billion).

However, many believe that the figure is far beyond that, adding that illegal Cannabis market if combined with the legal market value is worth $1trn.

Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names, is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes.

The main psychoactive proponent of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol, which is one of the 483 known compounds in the plant, including at least 65 other cannabinoids.

According to African Cannabis Report, Nigeria’s Cannabis market could be worth $3.7 billion by 2023 if cannabis use is legalised.

With a population of over 200 million, Nigeria is considered Africa’s most populous country and is said to have favourable growing conditions for the plant.

Only recently, state authorities are beginning to realise the potential economic benefit that the cannabis industry could have.

Recall that Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, recently called on the Federal Government to encourage the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in the country.

The conversation around legalisation has begun but many analysts believe it will be strongly opposed especially by religious organisations and civil society organisations.

However, the government on different fora has been encouraged to promote growing the commodity now that diversification agenda is on the front burner.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shown that the country can no longer rely on oil, thereby paving way for agriculture and mining to take the front seat.

As such, cannabis is seen as the new oil which could earn the country huge resources.

Despite not being legalised in Nigeria, an estimated 20.8 million people consume cannabis every year both for medicinal and recreational purposes, with a whopping $15.3 billion estimated to be spent annually.

Nigeria Reports 307 New COVID-19 Cases, Total Infections Hit 10162

This contained in two new reports by New Frontier Data, an organisation that says it is providing transparency into the cannabis industry via unbiased vetted data and analytics reporting.

Also, it has been reported that six states namely Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Edo, Osun and Delta, all in south west and south south regions have fertile grounds for growing Cannabis and are considered as the largest producers of the cannabis plant.

Ekiti is widely known as the largest producer of Marijuana in Nigeria. Prior to 2015, the National Drug Law Enforce Agency (NDLEA) said its sustained crackdown has significantly reduced the quantity of cannabis produced in the state. Nevertheless, 246 tonnes of cannabis were discovered and destroyed.

Ondo State is arguably the largest producer of Cannabis in the country currently which complements the argument by the governor encouraging growing the plant. In the state, many hectares of land are said to be cultivated in planting the plant.

The story is no different in Oyo, as the Southwestern state is also one of the largest producers of Cannabis.

Just like Oyo, Edo State has a large concentration of cannabis farms, many of them said to be located around the border along the Ore-Benin road.

Similarly, Osun State produces a great deal of cannabis, a reason why NDLEA stepped up its fight against Cannabis farming recently. The agency is reported to have discovered and destroyed many hectares of farms.

Like its neighbour, Edo, Delta State produces a large amount of cannabis. Although, still largely hidden from the authorities, the thriving marijuana sales market in Delta State is one of the largest in the country and there are areas in the state known specifically for the cultivation of the crop.

In the African Continent, Africa’s legal cannabis industry could be worth more than $7.1 billion annually by 2023 if legislation is introduced in some of the continent’s major markets, according to research from The African Cannabis Report, the first detailed report on the legal cannabis industry in Africa.

While African cannabis industries have great potential, cannabis remains illegal throughout Africa except in Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Other African countries who are on the brink of legalising growing the plant due to its huge potential include Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Uganda among others.

In Uganda for instance, the European Union approved Uganda’s medical cannabis products, giving local cannabis farmers access to the global legal marijuana market, according to TheCitizen. Re

In Morocco, where cannabis is illegal but tolerated for personal use, the cannabis industry employs 800,000 people, according to BusinessLive. The conversation surrounding legalisation has been ongoing since 2014 when an opposition party in the Moroccan parliament proposed a bill to legalise marijuana production for medical and industrial use.

In Ghana, citizens are considered heavy consumers of cannabis, although the plant remains prohibited, even if it is widely tolerated. A campaign to legalise cannabis in the country is building momentum.

Similarly, although cannabis is illegal in Malawi, it is one of the country’s biggest unofficial exports.

Malawi Gold is a world-renowned strain of cannabis grown exclusively there, and the country is considering legalising medical marijuana and hemp products to benefit the economy, especially as tobacco prices have fallen due to anti-tobacco campaigns, according to VOA. Tobacco accounts for 13 percent of Malawi’s GDP.

At the end of 2018 in Kenya, a draft marijuana control bill was introduced to Kenya’s parliament and the legalisation debate has been initiated, according to EnactAfrica.

The story is not different in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) as government is exploring the possibility of legalising cannabis to boost the economy. Lawmakers in the small landlocked kingdom believe that the plant may be worth around $1.63 billion per year if legalised, according to AllAfrica.

Medical benefits

There are an estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide suffering from medical conditions for which cannabis has shown to be of therapeutic value, according to an annual medical marijuana report.

Subsequently, adoption of medical cannabis treatment, by even a small proportion of that population, will create a massive market.

Cannabidiol or CBD is also a naturally-occurring cannabinoid constituent of cannabis. It is a chemical in the marijuana plant often used for medicinal purposes, and does not have the intoxicating effects.

As CBD is believed to relieve or ease symptoms related to health problems, CBD-infused products such as beer, iced tea, jelly beans and ice cream are flooding the market.

Recently on Channels Television current affairs progrmme, the Chief Executive Officer of CBD Oil Nigeria, Lami’ah Momoh said although she has no certificate from relevant agencies of the potency of the oil to treat COVID-19, the testimony from people who use the oil is far convincing.

She said: “I cannot say that medicinal cannabis oil can treat COVID-19, but we have testimony from people who have used the oil and its capacity to boost immune system is fantastic.

“Also I know that there is clinical trial and study currently going on in Israel now to ascertain whether the oil can treat COVID-19. As you know the WHO has certified that the oil doesn’t have any side effect,” she explained.

Speaking further, she said the Federal Government should look at legalising Cannabis as it will boost the agricultural sector especially the value chain.

Momoh stated that there is no time to think about diversification for more revenue rather than now and Cannabis posses huge potential.

Legality

Despite not being Legalised, Nigeria is ranked ninth among the world’s cannabis producing countries and also ranks among the top ten consumers of cannabis in the world, according to the United Nations World Drug Report.

The country is a major source of West African-grown cannabis.

Cannabis is a widely used illegal drug in Nigeria, while it has no religious or medical use in the country.

The possession of cannabis is illegal and is punishable by a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison.

More than 50 countries around the world have legalised some form of medical cannabis, while six countries have legalised cannabis for recreational use by adults.

Despite prohibition by a large population, about 263 million people around the world consume Cannabis annually.

Every year, the United Nation prepares a report about drug use around the world, known as the World Drug Report. Since cannabis is legal in very few countries and therefore growing it is illegal, it is hard to determine exactly how much cannabis is produced.

However, according to the report, the United States is the largest producer of marijuana in the world.

As a psychoactive drug, cannabis continues to find extensive favour among recreational and medical users in the U.S.

Twenty six states in the U.S. have legalised or decriminalised the drug, with Hawaii become the latest state to do so.

Nevertheless, the use, sale and possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Many retailers in the U.S. have started to sell CBD-infused personal care products in the U.S. to capitalize on the booming CBD business.

The United States is closely followed by Morocco, Afghanistan and Mexico.

Others are Columbia, Paraguay, Jamaica, Canada, Nigeria and India.

Although majority of these countries don’t have a law backing the growth of Cannabis, they are considered as the largest growing and consumers of the product.

It has capacity to increase export arnings by 20% – Rewane

Speaking on the subject matter, the Chief Executive Officer of Financial Derivatives Company, Bismarck Rewane, said the cannabis market has the capability to boost Nigeria’s earnings by almost 20%.

He said: “It’s no longer news that the country is struggling with revenue deficit, and we already have a trade balance of about $3-5 billion. Therefore in terms of market share of the commodity if cultivated and managed well can improve our export between 15-20”.

Speaking further, Rewane raised concerns over the capacity to regulate and manage the Cannabis market well to avoid addiction and abuse.

According to him, Cannabis has been consumed for a very long time in Nigeria and the question now lies on whether it can be strictly regulated going forward.

“The argument is that people are already consuming Cannabis so the problem now is that does Nigeria have the capacity to ensure that the plant is just grown for export purposes so that we can prevent addiction?

“Therefore, I strongly believe that strong institutions must be put in place to ensure that is is managed well to prevent the consumption of narcotics when it is finally legitimised,” he added.

Rewane further stated that the Cannabis market is not something that the Federal Government should ignore at this time as “It is an economic and medicinal imperative”.

Speaking to the Daily Times on the issue, the spokesman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) FCT command, Mr. Peter Adegbe, said the organisation still maintains its stands banning anything that has to do with Cannabis.

He said: “For us in NDLEA, Cannabis is banned and untill the convention Nigeria signed with s United Nations and other nations of the world that signed in 1988 convention is repealed, cannabis remains banned”.

Asked whether the organisation permits growing the plant for some form of medicinal purposes, Adegbe replied by saying: “No, we don’t consider such and we cannot permit untill the Federal Government legalises it. It is not something the NDLEA is even discussing because we are signatory to the convention and nothing has changed”.

Consequently, checks by the Daily Times shows that the Convention tagged “The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances” signed in 1988 is one of three major drug control treaties currently in force.

The treaty provides additional legal mechanisms for enforcing the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Convention cane into force on November 11, 1990.

Also, as at February 2018, there were 190 countries which are signatory to the Convention, of which Nigeria is among.

In another development, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) says the plant can serve different purposes including Medicinal purposes but believes Nigeria for now, does not currently have the institutional and legal frameworks to regulate the market of cannabis.

Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator of HURIWA, said there are certain institutional framework that needs to be in place before it is considered.

“We need to put those two factors in place before we can even begin to debate the necessity or otherwise of legalising cannabis. The agency of the Federal Government that handles drugs related crimes which is National Drugs Law enforcement Agency (NDLEA) may need to be fundamentally restructured and the enabling Act holistically amended to put it in the right frame of mind to be able to control the negative effects of the eventual legalisation of cannabis for medical reasons.

“NDLEA needs to be strengthened and made autonomous. As it now still under the office of the Federal Attorney General and collecting envelopes as her statutory budget is not professionally compliant for that monumental shift in policy on such a central hard drugs of choice like cannabis.

“NDLEA may even need to be merged with NAFDAC to become a single agency to handle the wider ramifications of the consequences that could spring up if Nigeria legalised cannabis for medical reasons,” he said.

Onwubiko further stated that there is need not just for NDLEA but the health sector as a whole to be rejigged and reformed, while its personnel need to undergo capacity building programmes to ready them for such a revolution.

HURIWA said: “It is expected that the Nigerian government and the National Assembly alongside the Houses of legislature of the 36 States of the Federation should constructively engage Nigerians in broadbased debates around the theme of legalising cannabis in Nigeria.

“There has to be a national consensus built around it before the government can start putting the proper structures in place to bring into being the eventual legalisation of cannabis for medical reasons in Nigeria.

“The expected revenue should not be the primary motivation for that. We need to analyse the medicinal values of cannabis and relate it to the peculiarities of our environment”.

Similarly, religious leaders have been reacting to the development.

A cleric with the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the FCT, Pastor Nicholas Odiorji said although the Cannabis market can serve as a huge source of export, many Nigerians may abuse it.

“You all know that in Nigeria, many youths have formed the habit of consuming Cannabis despite the huge arrest by the NDLEA.

“I am meant to understand that the plant and the extract oil from it also serves different medicinal purposes but you can understand that regulatory framework is the reason why government hasn’t legalised it.

“However, now that Coronavirus has made revenue generation difficult, it is important that all regulatory framework and mechanisms put in place before legalising it,” he said.

Also speaking, an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Mustapha Ahmed expressed fear over leaglising Cannabis owing to its previous abuse by Nigerian youths.

According to Ahmed, “Any good intentions by the government, citizens always look at the bad site and imbibe especially with the Cannabis”.

He noted that billions of Naira have been spent illegally on the product by Nigerians and Africans who are addicted to the drug.

“Global medicinal cannabis market is estimated at about $350 billion but if you look at the illegal market, the amount is even double owing to the number of addicts. As such, regulation should be key,” he added.

He further stated that Nigeria has a fertile soil to grow the plant and make money from the plant to fund key infrastructure projects, but warned that the NDLEA must be well equipped to ensure strict compliance.

He added that if the concerned regulatory agencies step up their game, side effects of the drug like violence and other social vices will be nipped in the bud, stating that some crimes committed if investigated sometimes turn out to be carried out under the influence of nacortics such as Cannabis.

About the author

Philip Clement, Abuja

Leave a Comment